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Image by Brandon Green

Plant Sentience.

Plant sentience is a huge and ongoing debate within science and academia. One that doesn’t even touch on whether beings of Nature, such as mountains, rivers, or rocks, could be considered conscious and intelligent or even ‘living’ according to a scientific definition of life.
So, are we going out on a limb to use this language in the context of land and forest restoration and conservation science? Possibly. 
Does it make TreeSisters sound woo-woo and “out there”? Again, possibly.
Will that stop us from doing it? No.

Why are we using this language about ALL beings of Nature?

The goal of Rooted in Ethics is to articulate a shared and agreed set of Nature relationships and ethics that can:

  • Provide an appropriate framework for a biocultural rights-based approach to forest and land restoration 

  • Help facilitate a systemic shift from our constructed frameworks and structures to one that prioritises the protection and regeneration of Earth's living systems.


Below, we outline just some of the reasons, we are aligning with this language.

Referring to beings of Nature as having rights (Rights of Nature) reflects cultural wisdom
Through a deep listening process facilitated by the Fountain, with representatives of both the Mother Earth Delegation of United Original Nations and representatives of biocultures from every continent (excluding Antarctica), we became aware that culturally, it is relatively consistent for representatives of indigenous and local rural communities to regard all beings of Nature as sacred, conscious and intelligent.
While we draw these conclusions and shape our language based on this cultural experiential wisdom, we also have a deep fascination with and respect for scientific advancements. We actively monitor developments within the scientific community with keen interest, recognising the invaluable contributions they offer to our understanding of the world.
Bridging ancestral wisdom and conservation science
We have found that the bridge that unites the ancestral wisdom of Original Peoples and Nations with Western science-informed approaches to forest and landscape restoration is to recognise Earth and all beings of Nature as having consciousness, intelligence, inherent rights, and being interconnected.
How do we talk about Nature relationships in Rooted in Ethics?
The framework includes The Pillars of Nature Relationships (Receptive, Reciprocal and Respectful), which recognise the Earth as a conscious, intelligent, multidimensional being nurturing all life. These pillars also recognise Earth’s living systems and beings of Nature as having vital roles in the well-being of the whole. From this place, the framework has developed ethical principles that describe what this understanding might mean philosophically and practically for conservation and reforestation.
How do Nature Relationships practically translate into conservation science?

In conservation science, every species is vital for the balance of an ecosystem, as shown in its ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Ecology can function effectively without delving into whether the beings within the system are sentient or conscious.

Why is it important to lift up this cultural recognition of the intelligence of beings of Nature?

Within TreeSisters, many of us already have a deep relationship with trees and plants. Learning more about how the historical relationship between trees and humans has functioned to protect and care for 80% of the world’s biodiversity was one of the many drivers for listening to and learning from Original Peoples and Nations representatives. 


From that listening, we discovered that diverse and regionally specific cultural practices encode how to care for biodiversity, trees, forests, waters, and communities. 


Cultural practices do this through biocultural protocols that are all very different but have in common that they treat all beings of Nature as conscious, intelligent, and sacred. Biocultural practices include deep reverence for life and taking great care to behave responsibly, living in reciprocity with and learning directly from Nature. This reverence is described as receptivity in the Pillars of Nature Relationships to be inclusive of those for whom the word reverence has connotations of negative control.


Biocultural protocols are regionally and culturally specific and adaptive. They are passed on through ancestral wisdom, language, and stories, and they include sound and vital information about how to care for ecosystems and understand the cosmos. They are Traditional Ecological Knowledge. So, by really caring for, loving, and respecting all life in cultural relationships, biocultural communities are better able to safeguard and sustain care for ecosystems and humanity.


This is why Rooted in Ethics focuses on strengthening and regenerating cultural relationships between trees and people. We see this as the most effective long-term way of caring for both forests and people. 


This is also why TreeSisters stands in allyship with the representatives of Original Peoples and Nations we are in relationship with and speaks up on behalf of the Rights of Nature.


Are biocultural ways of knowing in international conservation policy and agreements?

Yes, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Biocultural Community Protocols are extensively referenced in conjunction with indigenous and rural peoples. In some instances, this also points to the tension between Western science’s ability to refer to consciousness and intelligence and the ways of knowing expressed through Traditional Ecological Knowledge and ancestral wisdoms that are culturally shared within communities globally. 


The Convention on Biological Diversity is the international United Nations secretariat focused on safeguarding biodiversity. One example of text that speaks to this challenge is Tkariwaié:ri, a “Code of Ethical Conduct to Ensure Respect for the Cultural and Intellectual Heritage of Indigenous and Local Communities Relevant to the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological Diversity.” 


The Tkariwaié:ri text recognises the following:


“Respect for traditional knowledge requires that it is valued equally with and complementary to scientific knowledge and that this is fundamental in order to promote full respect for the cultural and intellectual heritage of Indigenous and local communities relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity."


For more examples of relevant international agreements, declarations and policies see Appendix 5 of Rooted in Ethics: The Community Tree Stewardship Framework.

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Our listening and learning journey with Rooted in Ethics and the language of respecting the conscious intelligence of beings of Nature.
Rooted in Ethics has been co-written with representation from Original Peoples and Nations. It does not claim to speak on behalf of all Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Edition 1 draws from listening processes with multiple organisations and community representatives. The bridge text, Pillars of Nature Relationships, and the Ethical Principles have been shared and agreed upon with contributors and are now being published to share with a wider audience.
Rooted in Ethics is not a one-size-fits-all set of definitive statements that can represent the diverse truths of all peoples or sectors. It is a living document and a work in progress, published to reflect where we have come for the benefit of the communities and people involved, as well as those who would like to become part of this journey.


In the forest


Feb 2024_edited.jpg


DSC_9338 Mercy Kinani


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